Morello Cove #3
Dreaming With You
by Jannie Lund
Jake Lancaster flows through life determined to enjoy it. He takes pleasure in women, but steers clear of the high maintenance ones. He works hard, but only so he can reap the benefits of being his own boss. When a single mom and her son move in next door, she’s pretty much everything he’s never wanted. But he wants her anyway.
Being independent can cost you. Olivia Ashford learns the lesson when she breaks free of her mother’s relentless rule and moves across the country with her young son. Finally free, Olivia makes it her mission to remain that way, not about to let go of the freedom she’s dreamed of for so long. Too bad her new neighbor makes her feel as if she’s not nearly as strong and independent as she wants to be.
It’s instant attraction when Jake and Olivia meet. They’re just not sure they like each other. Opposites in so many ways, they skip from barely being able to have a normal conversation to setting fire to the sheets. The boundaries they set are ignored from the first second, and none of them are certain they won’t fall over the edge they both fear.
Release Date: January 17, 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
White Satin Romance
There was a cold beer in his fridge calling his name. Jake had been hearing it for a while now, and he was bursting to answer its call. As much as he loved his work, tinkering with cars and bossing people around in his two auto repair shops, man wasn’t created to be a slave of his job. The daily, cold after-work beer was to remind himself of that. Not that he’d forget in a hurry, but that was beside the point.
He whistled somewhat in tune with the radio as he drove home. Some sultry country mama belted out the lyrics, and Jake tapped his fingers against the steering wheel, pleased with himself as he thought about the snazzy, midnight blue BMW convertible he’d spent most of the day on. A fine job if he did say so. The music changed to something rockier, and Jake switched off the radio. He’d listen to anything, but country was just easier to whistle along to.
Turning down the street where he lived, he spotted a moving truck outside the bungalow he’d called home for the past five years. Pretty sure he hadn’t accidentally ordered a new roommate along with the spare parts he’d sent for the previous day, he figured the truck was meant for the empty house next to his. New neighbors at last. Jake hoped it wasn’t another mothball to replace the last. He could do without an uptight neighbor who complained about every damn little thing.
A new poker buddy would be nice. Jake lamented his two newly married friends, who were now often too busy for poker, while he got out of his car and tried to sneak glances across the row of shrubbery between the two houses. Not that he wasn’t happy for his friends and their newlywed bliss, but getting wives seemed to have an unfortunate effect on them. There were no more all-nighters, playing cards, drinking beer, shooting the shit. No more going out and trawling for chicks with his best friend. Now it was all dinner parties and asking for permission. That was probably fine for some; Scott and Austin sure as hell looked like they enjoyed being chained to their white picket fences, but it wasn’t for Jake. Even if they had married absolute gems. He didn’t particularly need a woman telling him what to do. A man needed his freedom.
There were no signs of his new neighbors, so Jake accepted that he’d have to wait to get his curiosity satisfied. The beer was still waiting for him.
He brought his beer with him to the back porch and fired up the barbecue. The fact that it was October didn’t bother him. One of many reasons he loved living in California was that he could barbecue all year long. If it got a little chilly, then that was what sweatshirts were for. Who needed a stove, a microwave, and an oven when you could just fire up the barbecue and throw whatever you were in the mood for on there? He mostly used his oven to hide dirty dishes in whenever his mom visited. The dishwasher always seemed to be full, and the woman had eyes like a hawk.
The juicy chicken and the roasted potato wedges joined a second beer on the table. Despite the lack of summer heat, Jake ate outside. He had a fairly large property, the back of it filled with trees and bushes offering a lot of privacy. It was a very low maintenance yard, which was just the way he liked it. In general, he tended to steer clear of all things high maintenance except for cars coming into his shops. High maintenance cars meant business, challenges, and fun. High maintenance women, for instance, meant Jake Lancaster saying “so long.”
Busy philosophizing and eating, Jake didn’t notice the little boy until he was standing on the porch steps. With a mop of reddish brown hair, big solemn blue eyes, a generous spread of freckles across his nose and cheeks, and a stuffed dog under his arm, the kid just stood there. Still as a statue. Probably three or four years old, Jake estimated. Maybe five. It was hard to tell.
“Well, hello,” Jake greeted his unexpected guest. “Where’d you come from?”
The boy pointed toward the newly inhabited house next door. “I runned away.”
Jake remembered with great fondness the many times he’d run away as a kid. Once he’d gotten as far as the harbor where he’d wanted to jump on a ship and sail all the way to the end of the world. Instead one of the fishermen had bought him an ice cream cone and called his mom. She’d been furious. Great times. “Did you now? And where are you planning on going?”
Seemingly unbothered, the kid shrugged his little shoulders and came closer. “Is this your house?”
“Sure is. Do you like your new house?”
“Nope.” Apparently not the shy type, the kid climbed onto the bench Jake was sitting on and plopped the stuffed dog down next to him. “What are you eating?”
“Chicken and potatoes. Want some?” Jake held out a potato wedge, finding himself thoroughly entertained by his new neighbor even though the kid wasn’t exactly poker buddy material.
“I’m not s’posed to eat with my fingers. Mommy says.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to eat potato wedges with anything but your fingers, so go ahead. They’re like big french fries.”
The look in the blue eyes told Jake that the little guy wasn’t convinced. “We’re outside, so it’s okay to eat with your fingers. You don’t eat with a fork and a knife on a picnic, do you?”
“Dunno.” After a bit of hesitation, the boy took the potato wedge and started munching on it.
“So, how come you don’t like your new house?” Jake asked, picking up his own potato wedge. As far as dinner companions went, he figured he could do a lot worse.
“I like my old house better even though Grandma was there, but Mommy said we had to get a new one. I don’t have any friends here, and Mommy says I have to unpack.”
There was so much revulsion wrestled into the last word that Jake almost chuckled. Unpacking sucked apparently. “You’ll get new friends I bet.”
Blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Mommy says that too.”
“She’s right.” Utterly charmed, Jake held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Jake. I’ll be your first new friend.”
Far from convinced, the kid tilted his head and studied Jake. “But you’re too old to play with.”
“Okay, little dude. Let’s get one thing clear. You are never, as in ever, too old to play. I’ve got the video games and the super soakers to prove it.”
“Really?” Wide-eyed, the kid quickly slid his little paw into Jake’s still outstretched hand. “Okay, we can be friends. My name’s—”
“Grant!” The female shout held a note of panic and came from the house next door. “Grant, where are you?”
“You’d be Grant?” Jake guessed, looking at his new, little friend.
The boy nodded and slid down from the bench, clutching the dog.
“And that’d be your mommy?”
“Yep. She’s mad.” Grant looked down at the ground when a woman slipped through the bushes separating Jake’s back yard from the one next door. She stopped as her eyes zeroed in on the porch. Hands on her hips, blue eyes blazing, and the most glorious red hair trying to escape from whatever hair-do she had going on, Jake thought she looked like a goddess. Or a harpy.
* * * *
“Grant, for heaven’s sake. Didn’t you hear me calling?” Olivia knew she was overreacting, but the moment she’d looked out at their new yard and hadn’t been able to see Grant, she’d felt ice-cold panic bubble up in her throat. She’d been on her own less than a day and already she’d lost her little boy. Some mother she was. Maybe moving across the country on her own hadn’t been such a good idea, although she’d been dreaming of little else for so long. Dreaming of being free and standing on her own two feet. So far, though, she only felt exhausted and useless.
It didn’t help her frayed nerves that Grant not only had invaded their new neighbor’s back porch, but that said neighbor was currently looking at her with a lazy smirk. Men like him, who knew exactly how attractive they were, always lacked the manners of well-bred people. Olivia heard her mother in her head and winced. More than three thousand miles separated them, but she might as well have been back in Boston with her mother hovering.
“Hello.” She forced herself to smile politely to her handsome neighbor. “I’m sorry Grant interrupted your dinner. Come on, Grant.”
Grant shuffled over, as sullen as when he’d run outside earlier. He was as reluctant about the move as Olivia had been eager.
“He wasn’t interrupting.” The man unfolded his tall frame from the bench and sauntered down the steps. When he reached her, the smirk, or maybe it was a smile, returned. He held out his hand. “Welcome to Morello Cove. I’m Jake.”
Olivia swallowed, her throat dry. She wasn’t at all pleased with how her body felt on fire under his intense look. A storm brewed in his gray eyes although he seemed perfectly calm. Up close, her attraction to him was even fiercer. And a lot more unwanted. “Olivia,” she managed. “And thank you.”
As if magnetically pulled, Olivia’s eyes stayed locked with Jake’s. It was like being in a vacuum, all air and rational thought sucked out. She’d never experienced anything like it, and since her control seemed to be slipping, too, she didn’t care for it. Using all her willpower, she tore her gaze away from his and put her hand on Grant’s shoulder.
“We should go in. Tell Jake goodbye, honey.”
Jake crouched down and held out his hand to Grant. “See you later, little G-man. It was nice to meet you.” When he rose and looked at her again, he winked. “Olivia.”
“Have a good night.” Afraid he could see on her face how shaken she was, she turned around quickly and guided Grant back in their own yard. On her own property, she exhaled and reached for Grant’s hand. She was a grown woman, not a silly teenager who’d just swooned over a rock star. It was high time she started acting her age.
Grant’s hand was greasy, and she sent him in to wash up. She’d be lucky if the dinner she’d put on the table before going out to round up Grant wasn’t cold by now. And to think she’d been so excited to be cooking in her own kitchen.
Before going inside, she glanced over her shoulder. Her new irresistible neighbor was still standing in the same spot. He wasn’t further away than she could see the contemplating smile on his face. She hurried through the door.
Grant continued to be sullen all through dinner. With one elbow resting on the table despite her telling him to remove it several times, he studied the steamed asparagus with narrowed eyes. “How come we can’t have p’tatoes?”
“I’ll make potatoes tomorrow. Now eat your dinner.”
He looked at her. “Can you make them outside?”
Olivia sighed, hating herself for her lack of patience, but she’d been hauling boxes and unpacking all day, and Grant had been grumpy from the moment he woke up. “It’s too late in the year to barbecue, honey. Plus, we don’t have one.”
The sigh he emitted seemed too big for such a small body, and if it had been any other day, it would have amused her. “Please eat your dinner, Grant.”
Grant did as asked. Although he dragged his feet something awful when he had to do something he didn’t want to, he was an obedient little boy. Olivia wished she knew how to bring that heart-stopping smile of his back, but since he had his heart set on being unhappy about their move to California, she supposed only time could show him it wasn’t that bad. That maybe it was even a good thing.
It wasn’t until she was clearing away the dishes and Grant was busy not unpacking his toys that it hit her. The silence at the dinner table. They were so used to it, the awkward meals at her mother’s house. Hadn’t she promised herself that as soon as she got her own house, dinner would be a talkative affair? Grant needed to talk more, which was one of the reasons she’d finally fled the big house in Boston she’d grown up in. It wasn’t a good place for children. She knew that better than anyone. There were still people who believed children should be seen and not heard, and her mother was one of them. Olivia was not. The sweetest sound in the world was Grant’s laughter, and she wanted to hear it all the time. Not just when Grandma was out of the house.
When she tucked her son in, using the fact that she hadn’t assembled his new bed yet as an excuse to install him in her own, her heart felt raw in her chest. He looked so small and vulnerable, fists sleepily rubbing his eyes. She’d yanked him across the country, away from everything and everyone they knew, and now she was all he had. He was all she had.
“I’ll make it all right, baby boy,” she whispered to him and ran her fingers through his hair. “I love you more than anything.”
Grant was already asleep. It had been a long day for him, too. She kissed his forehead and made sure Dog, the stuffed toy so aptly named, was tucked safely under his arm. Leaving a light on in the hallway, she went downstairs. There were boxes to unpack although a long soak in the tub and a glass of wine sounded so much better.
The living room looked more like a storage unit than anything. Debating a little where to start, she started unpacking her books and placing them alphabetically in the beautiful mahogany bookcases she’d bought. It was the first time she’d ever really chosen her own furniture, and it had been an enjoyable part of moving, even if unpacking wasn’t.
Going into the kitchen for a cup of tea halfway through, she saw lights on next door. The neighbor. Jake. It was a little unsettling how he’d affected her, a total stranger. It felt as if he’d electrified her, fried her brain. Unsettling wasn’t even the right word. It was downright scary, and she needed to be careful.
* * * *
It was the damndest thing. Even while cleaning up after dinner, watching a football game on TV, and trading obscene jokes with his brother on his cellphone, the woman stayed fixed on his mind. She’d sure been pleasant to look at, but her personality hadn’t been very pleasant. Whatever sorry schmuck she was married to, the guy had Jake’s sympathy. She reminded him of that cactus plant his mom had in her kitchen window. Prickly as hell but full of pretty flowers.
The little guy, on the other hand, seemed like a decent little fella. But who the hell named a little boy Grant? It was such a serious name. Of course, the kid had been pretty serious, too. Probably because he had such a prickly mother. He’d been wearing a polo shirt of all things, and his sneakers were too white for a boy that age. Not a smudge or fleck of dirt on them. There hadn’t been a spot anywhere on him. Jake and his brothers had always been a messy bunch, playing in the mud like pigs, as his mom was so fond of saying. Even now, clothes tended to get dirty as soon as he put them on. It was natural.
Jake admitted that he was obsessing. They were just neighbors. Ones he’d like to be able to get along with. Despite telling himself not to, he peered out the window and saw lights on next door. Probably unpacking. Then turned his back. It wasn’t any of his business. What was his business, however, was the stack of paperwork he’d brought home with him. It was a necessary evil, and the sooner he got it done, the sooner he could … he grimaced. The sooner he could go deal with the laundry he’d been putting off for a week. Dammit. He hated laundry. Laundry was something the devil had created on a bad day. It wasn’t so much the separating or the shuffling stuff from one machine to the other. It was the folding. The folding sucked ass. When his nosy mom looked into his closet, she scolded him exactly like he was eight years old and had broken the kitchen window with a baseball. Exactly.
It was almost midnight by the time the paperwork was done and the laundry dealt with. Semi-folded was every bit as good as folded. It wasn’t an art, after all. It was just . . . folding. It had made it to his closet, which had to count for something. And when he looked out his bedroom window before going to bed, it was just to look at the moon, not the house next door. When he closed his eyes, and felt himself drifting off, he admitted to himself that he wasn’t the kind of guy who looked at the moon.